We are all familiar with orange carrots, but this versatile vegetable comes in a variety of shapes and colours. In fact, early ancestors of orange carrots were white, green, purple, red and yellow and originated in Middle Asia approximately 5,000 years ago. Their roots were small and sinewy. In the early 16th century, European breeders repeatedly chose the larger, orange colour for plant selection, resulting in the modern orange carrot.
Carrots are the fourth largest vegetable crop in Canada and mostly grown in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Carrots have lacy leaves and a tap root that differs in length, shape, thickness and colour depending on the variety. Besides the common orange carrot, there are white, yellow, purple and red varieties as well.
Did you know? Baby or mini carrots aren’t young or immature carrots at all? In fact, while some ‘baby carrots’ are picked at a smaller size to ensure they stay sweet, the standard ‘baby-cut carrot’ is actually a processed form of your average grocery store carrot. In the early 1980s, a California carrot farmer found a way to make misshapen, over or undersized, or generally ‘ugly’ carrots more appealing to consumers. These culled or discardable carrots that were being used as animal feed are now peeled, trimmed, shaped, washed and packaged. The carrot trimmings are used for other products like shredded carrots and carrot juice or sold as compost or feed for livestock. This process has effectively reduced food waste and increased carrot consumption by 30%. Today, 70% of carrot sales are baby carrots.
How to Buy:
Carrots generally come in 2 to 5 lb bags with their tops removed but you can also buy bunched carrots with their tops still on or individual carrots in some centers.
Choose firm, crisp carrots with a smooth, blemish-free exterior. Large carrots may have tough centres and deep green “shoulders” just below the top may indicate bitterness.
If you purchase fresh bunched carrots, use the same day or immediately remove the leafy green tops before storage as they pull vitamins and moisture from the edible root, and may cause the carrot to become limp or tough sooner.
How to Store:
Carrots are one of the least perishable vegetables. They store well in high humidity so keep in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer for three to four weeks. For longer storage, keep carrots in a root cellar or similar cool, moist place.
Store your baby carrots in their original bag and consume before the best before date. The white colour that sometimes occurs on the carrots is a result of dehydration and will disappear if the carrots are rinsed or rehydrated in a bath of ice water. This ‘blush’ doesn’t affect nutritional value or food safety; it just isn’t appealing and the carrots will sometimes taste dried out.
Blanch carrots for 2-5 minutes (shorter time for chopped carrots, longer time for whole or thicker carrots) in boiling water and then immediately place them in cold water. Once carrots are completely cool, place them in sealable plastic bags in the freezer.
How to Prepare:
Many of the carrot’s nutrients are just below the surface so it’s better to simply rinse and scrub them lightly with a vegetable brush rather than peel off the skin. Trim the tops and roots off before cooking.
Carrots lend themselves well to appetizers, salads, soups, side dishes, casseroles, stews, and even desserts. Baby carrots are the perfect snacking food and are conveniently washed and peeled and perfect to be eaten raw with a variety of dipping options. The methods of preparation are as diverse as the dishes and include slicing, grating, julienning, leaving whole, mashing, steaming, roasting, broiling, boiling, stir-frying and sauteing. Shredded carrots add moisture and nutritional value to baked goods and, of course, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is a welcome dessert after any meal.
Carrots are low in calories and a source of folacin and fibre. They are an excellent source of beta carotene, converted in the body to Vitamin A.
How They Are Grown:
Carrots are grown in every province in Canada; however, about 50% of our total carrots are grown in Ontario and 30% in Quebec. The Brampton area just North of Toronto is particularly prolific in carrot production.
Carrot seeds are incredibly small – 1 teaspoon (5 mL) can hold about 2000 carrot seeds and they are planted in rows by precision seeding equipment each spring starting mid-March. Carrots are planted close together so that the roots will grow straight downwards and don’t have space to branch out. This produces a long straight carrot that is more appealing to the consumer.
Carrots are harvested by machines that pull them from the ground by their tops before trimming the tops off. Because carrots are still living organisms even after they’re removed from the ground, leaving the tops on will continue to draw nutrients from the root and impact the quality and shelf life of the carrot. Carrots sold in bunches with the tops still attached are typically hand harvested at an earlier stage than those that come prepackaged. The trimmed carrots are then moved by conveyor to a truck to be removed from the field.
The trucks transport them to packing facilities where they are immersed in a cold water bath to stop the ripening process. The carrots are washed and polished to remove any loose dirt. The clean carrots are sized, graded and sorted according to their end use (baby carrots, packaging for grocery stores, bulk carrots for food processors, processed carrots – sliced, shredded, frozen, juice, etc.) They are then packaged and moved to cold storage before being sent to the grocery store on refrigerated trucks.
Canadian Crop is Available: August to late September is harvest
(with storage, available August – January)
Grown in: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia
For More Information:
- BC Vegetable Marketing Commission
- BC Fresh
- Holland Marsh Growers Association
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Association of Quebec Market Gardeners